I really want you to learn to trust your curiosity and your intuition. That's where great things come from.
So I take one. Two. People think that podcasts are easy because when things sound easy, usually it's because they're very, very, very well made. If you want to break into this industry, you have to break this industry. There's just no end to what you can do in podcasting. You can't go into it being like, what do people want? You have to go into it and be like, what's fascinating? See, that's some good car sound.
I get to wake up almost every morning with a question in my mind and go answer it for a living. I don't see this anywhere else. I want to hear this story and nobody is doing it and that gets on my nerve so I'm going to do it. I'm going to do my best to sum up everything that I've learned over the course of a decade in podcasts.
I'm Rebecca Sananes and I've been a podcast producer for...
a long time now. I passed 10,000 hours of working on podcasts 10,000 hours ago. I was the lead producer and developing producer on Pivot with Caris Swisher and Scott Galloway at New York Magazine and Vox Media. It's been really successful. I was the co-creator and executive producer of Archetypes, hosted by Megan, the Duchess of Sussex, which was number one on Spotify for a long time around the world. And before that, I got my start in the public radio system. So I went to public radio stations across the Northeast and I
awards for my work in podcasting. So this has been my craft, my career, such a big part of my life, and I wanna give you the tools to let it be part of your life. Whether you're new to the industry and you're just starting out, or you're a veteran and you wanna brush up on some skills, this course is gonna take you through and make you a better host, a better writer, a better producer, a better editor, and a better listener.
This is so cool. Marker. Mark.
So I knew I wanted to be a journalist from a really young age since I was in college. And this was before podcasting really got hot. So I applied to graduate school. And when I got there, I had an advisor and she said, you know, have you ever considered doing public radio? And it never really occurred to me that people.
do that for a living, like I never really put that together. So I kind of had this like clear pathway, like there were no other students studying audio at the time. And all I wanted to do was some international reporting and I wanted to tell stories like Ira Glass. He was sort of my North Star in terms of what I wanted to do and sound like. And by the next year, serial had come out and suddenly everybody wanted to do podcasting. I really took a risk and I left public radio
a specific job, I moved to New York, where at the time that's where things were really happening, and I started freelancing, and I was a waitress, and I knocked on every door in New York City until I got a freelance job, and I started developing the show Pivot. And it was like, light bulb went off. I was like, this is what I wanna do. I wanna tell fascinating stories about amazing people doing great things in places all over the world. And...
Like, honestly, I kind of still want to do that.
So I feel like there's this thing where people say, oh, there's too many podcasts. There's too many podcasts. Well, there are so many podcasts. We don't need another podcast. I'm like, how many books are there? How many TV shows are there? How many movies are there? So maybe we don't need another bad podcast, but that doesn't mean that we don't need another podcast. There's always space for something new and different. What I would say is spend a lot of time thinking about the nuanced topic.
you want to talk about and how you want to talk about it. Think very nuanced.
So I have to get comfortable. This is what I tell my hosts all the time. I'm like, they want you comfortable. They want to feel like they know you. And so I'm going to take my own advice for a second and like, chill. So let's get together. Let's talk. Let's talk. Let's talk podcasts. I love podcasts. You love podcasts. Let's talk podcasts.
There's just no end to what you can do in podcasting. You don't need a big fancy studio in order to just get started. And you can just start playing with your world through sound and make really great stories. First of all, you need to start with a really rich topic. You need to have something that fascinates you. What you are interested in, other people are interested in too. So what you want to learn about,
is what's gonna lead you to a great story. And I think really what it is is you're like, this is the thing that I wish was out there, that I was looking for, that nobody else was making, nobody else was doing. And then translate that for the world.
I think the biggest secret is tapping into the zeitgeist. You have to observe the world and be like, okay, this is a concept that people are talking about, and this is a concept that people are talking about. And like in six months, how is that going to develop? And that's often a really ripe place. It's like taking the culture, taking what you understand of it and trying to predict where it's going. Cause then you can like hit at the right.
An example of this back when I was a young journalist, there was a story, I was in Vermont. The government was deciding whether or not organic, like to make a produce organic, was just.
not having pesticides in it, or whether it's about the soil. There were all these farmers talking about how important and rich the soil was and how that's really integral and how that's how they made up the term organic that got then taken and bought and sold. I just was like, everybody is sort of gonna be interested in this story, because we all wanna know if we have something organic or not. So I told this story from a very local perspective, and then the day of the hearing,
the top story on all things considered. And really all I did was observe something in my own community, something that was happening to real people, something that was tangible, and make it applicable to somebody who's shopping in the supermarket. If you can find a new way to tell a story that makes us think differently, that brings us back in history, that makes us reconsider it, when you can make the personal.
Universal is when you're really on to a great story, when you can make something very localized with characters who are going through something, but really what they're going through is indicative of something much, much bigger that we're all seeing. That's where you have something good.
Central to what you're making is your taste. You know, like first you have to develop a taste and then build your skills around that taste. Oftentimes I'll listen to somebody else's podcast and be like, ooh, I love what they did there. They really took me down this amazing rabbit hole and how did they do it? They did it through their writing and you know, what are the elements that they bring in? And then in my work, I try to replicate that and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't work.
And so just like stacking what I love to listen to against my skillset and hopefully making something new and exciting and something that I wanna listen to. Trust your instincts. Like you are in it because you have an innate curiosity. You have an innate ear for conversation as art and really trust your intuition there and don't let things derail you while you're trying to make something new.
Like I said from the beginning, it starts with having really good taste. And so if you listen back to your work and you're like, that doesn't live up to my taste. I mean...
Some of this I'm talking about and I'm like, oh, it's like about creativity and it's about curiosity, but some of it is about framework.
And what you want to do is build a recurring promise to your audience and find new and exciting ways to execute that week over week. In other mediums, like if you go to a movie, right, you're going and you're seeing it once. But a podcast audience is about like, how do we bring these people back over and over again? I guess an example of this is in archetypes, the recurring promise was we are gonna talk about a label, trope, stereotype, box that women get pigeonholed into in the media.
where that comes from, how that functions in our lives, and then talk to one of the most famous women in the world about how they've experienced that. And really, that's quite simple, but every episode was different because we were talking to different people, and the origins were different, and the words were different, and the timing was different. So once you build that framework, it's about delighting your audiences in new and exciting ways.
You really wanna think of it in terms of building blocks. What are the fundamental things that we're hitting on and how are we hitting on them consistently? Another reason you really wanna do this is the way most podcasts get revenue is ad sales. And the way that they do that is you have a pre-roll, you have a mid-roll, and you have a post-roll. Your pre-roll is gonna be the most lucrative, your mid-roll is gonna be the second most lucrative, and your post-roll is gonna be the least. And the idea is to get your audience to continue.
moving along with your podcast. And the more you can have a segment that people are looking forward to, that they're like, oh, I can't wait to get to the end of this podcast because I love when they do this thing. So I'll give you an example.
When we started working on Pivot, the original format was big story breakdown, wins and fails, and then Scott Galloway would always make a prediction. Scott was pretty well known in the business arena as like a brilliant analyst. He was really good at looking at trends. And so Pivot became the place where people knew they were gonna get a really interesting prediction week over week over week.
I predicted in my prediction stack that AI would be the technology of 2023. Yeah. And you're going to see a hundred billion dollars in market capitalization lead to the company. So AI is about to become the new Web3, the new metaverse, the new whatever you want to call it. So that's an example of how formatting it brings people in and keeps people staying. But the more you can start with a framework, the easier it is to iterate.
What I think that people don't know that they're gonna get when they get into this industry is you really are perfecting the art of cultural conversation and you're tapping into a very specific, timely zeitgeist. So what you get is a front row seat to the world. You get to be a lifelong learner when you're a podcaster because that's your job is to have conversations, learn and help other people have those conversations.
The truth is that I think some of the best art and storytelling is happening in podcasting right now. Some of the best writing, some of the most interesting stories, some of the histories that we've forgotten that need to be retold, people are starving for authenticity right now. I think that's what they are really craving in a world that's complicated and saturated with...
brands, I think people are looking for vulnerability. They wanna know that you're like them and that you share fears and you are all just humans. And so your audience wants that and you're giving them something really special that they are gonna give back to you.
So I think something that I really love about podcasting is it's just so intimate. It brings people close in a way that no other medium does. You have people in their most sacred space. You're right between their ears and you can't see them, but you can hear emotion, you can hear feeling, and they really convey something to you directly. And I don't think it's a mistake that...
Franklin Delano Roosevelt got the country through the Great Depression with his fireside chats. Like he arguably was the first podcaster. And what he did brilliantly is speak directly into people's living rooms and make them feel taken care of. And like he understood them and they could understand him. And I think any podcast that you're gonna love, it's because you feel close to the person who's giving you that information. You feel like...
They understand you and they're not gonna lead you astray.
I think great hosts have this very special combination of making you feel very at home, like you could be friends with them, like you know something unique and personal about them while being very in tune with what's going on, being highly professional. I find with the best interviewers, they're having a real honest conversation with the person in front of them, but they know to be like, I know my audience wants to know the answer to this question and hitting that question at the right moment.
And then also on a very basic level, great hosts are really agile. They have the ability to understand timing and when things have gone on too long and really when to move on to the next subject.
So not only are they bringing out the best in the person in front of them, which is hard enough on its own, they really themselves are charismatic enough to hold the audience's attention. I find some of my favorite podcasts are just hosts talking into the microphone, giving advice, giving thoughts. They're charismatic enough that you just want to listen to them. And that's a lot of skills all at once. So your audience already feels a little bit like the host is their friend. But if you can take it in a step further and engage with them,
with listener mail questions, with open conversations, with live shows, live shows are huge. Any way that you can make the audience feel like they are part of something, because they already feel like the host is their friend, and the more you can invite them and be like, yeah, you are a big part of this, and we are working together, the more your audience is going to want to be there and stay there.
So I think the key to a really good podcast interview is something that is smart enough and prepared enough while having all the space and fluidity to let the natural things that happen in conversation. So think about the ways in which you have really great conversations. Usually, you kind of know a little bit what you're talking about. You have some sort of base knowledge and you also have room to be like, huh, what do you think? And be surprised by the person in front of you and learn and riff.
We did this a lot in archetypes, which was really fun is we equipped Megan with this soundbite, this soundbite, and this soundbite for the person who she would be interviewing. And when conversation started either to lull or she needed some backup, we were there and we knew to cue it up. So she would say something like, I think we have some audio of this. Do you think you could play that for us? And we were there for her. And we would put it in real time.
and that that would spark the conversation again. And so I think the best hosts come prepared in that they are deeply curious. They know what's going on generally in the world, but they have enough space that they can be really present in the room. In podcasting, you don't get all of this visual. You don't get my gesticulation. You don't get this set. You don't get my hair all done up. What you get is just the sound of my voice.
And you can pick up very, very quickly with a human voice what is authentic and what's not. And the more you prepare, the more you're gonna be able to hear, that sounds like an actor, or that sounds stilted, or that sounds really flat. And I think if you do it too many times, or you know too much what you're doing when you're going into it, you lose that texture that people come to podcasts for.
Craft, craft, craft, craft, craft. Craft and craft and craft and craft. I don't know how else to say it, but stick with your craft. The most important thing is that you are making something that you feel proud of and that is good. Never, ever sacrifice what you know to be good in your art form for what you think the audience wants. There's no end. You're never gonna win at creating something. You're just gonna get better and have more fun and learn more.
Oh, the misconceptions about podcasting. I could write a book and it's really frustrating. But I think the biggest misconception is that it's super easy that like you sit in a basement and you put a microphone on and you just talk into it and that's a podcast. Podcasts take so much time and effort and energy. And I think something that people forget is without visuals, without set design, without special effects.
Your words and your audio have to be so good. You have to beat the audience's expectations, right? Like you don't wanna meet their expectations. You have to take them to a whole new place that they haven't seen before that surprises them, that makes them think. I mean, I can't even tell you, there's so many podcasts where I was like, I didn't know that. I didn't know that I wanted to know that, but I'm really glad I listened. I'm really glad I know that now. And I think that's a misconception. It's like, I think it's a genuinely literary
medium. Like if you ever wanted to write a magazine article, try doing it as a podcast because it's that much richer.
Rules are meant to be broken. I hate rules. I think rules are really boring. And I think you should learn the fundamentals of podcasting. I really learned it by working in a newsroom. So I think principles are right for the ear and not the eye. Make sure that you are conversational with your audience. Make sure your sound quality is really good. But once you learn the form, I think the point is to break it, to be like, okay.
I think I know what I'm doing. Let me go totally out into right field and see what I can do. So go learn some fundamentals and we'll get to that and then break them all.
So at this point in podcasting, there's really no room for bad sound quality. That's where it has to start. Beginning, middle, and end, you have to have nice, clean audio. It's nice to have a really big studio and all the fancy stuff, but I swear to you, I've made a lot of stuff that you've heard even at my kitchen table using really simple tools. And I'm gonna show you some of them right now.
So when the pandemic happened, a lot of production stopped for a lot of different industries, but not so with podcasting, because we were really quick to be able to use conferencing platforms. My go-to is Riverside. I've used it for like just about every podcast that I've made. One, it's super easy to use. You just access it on your web browser. And what's cool is that it records locally for both the guest and the host. That means it's getting audio not from the web, it's getting it from
their side of the conversation. And it automatically uploads and it goes right into a cloud system. So wherever your producer is, you can access it immediately all over the world. It's super cool. Like imagine how much added work it is just for your guests.
to get them into a studio before we had this kind of stuff. I mean, can we get you in studio? If we can't get you in studio, can we get you into a local NPR station studio somewhere else and then we're gonna have to either connect via phone lines or Skype?
or all sorts of different ways, and then after you're done, you're gonna have to send me that audio. Now it's super simple because it's like, you kind of hop into your own little studio on the browser and you send a guest link and all they do is click it. You can be at home, we can be at home, and we can create the best possible sound situation and record from there. And then it's that much more organic, like the person doesn't have to beat traffic or like all those things that's gonna make your guests feel perhaps cranky or off.
And so what I really love is each track is separate. Like the host track is its one thing and the guest track is the other thing and they upload separately, but they're really easy to sync. The reason you wanna do two separate tracks is in post-production, you can take out all those ums, you can take out a cough, you can fix internet lag, you can fix all these things in the conversation, but if they're baked together, if the two tracks are one, it's really hard to separate it out and like do all those like nips.
picky little edits. So think about it. We went on Riverside, we can get to our guests anywhere in the world. All we did was send them a link. We log on, we say, oh my God, hey, how you doing? That audio instantly uploads to a cloud. So in theory, you could get it from anywhere. You download it, you import it into your Pro Tools, and then you're off to editing. That's pretty simple. You could for sure do that at home right now.
So we're gonna go into Pro Tools. And I have spent, I don't even know how many hours in Pro Tools. Pro Tools is like my home base over here. This is how I edit audio. And I'm gonna create a new project, right? And so we've already called it 0328 Waveform. And that's our new project forever. Let's see if my Riverside has uploaded. Now over here, I'm gonna go to File, and I'm gonna go to Import Audio. Oh, look how convenient. This is our audio from Riverside.
Okay, and look at that. See, you can see right here that the audio has synced, that it's exactly how you've recorded it. And that's really how you build it, is you start with the two tracks of each of your host and your guests, and then you layer from there. But really what I wanna convey to you is just how easy it is to capture audio and how important it is to capture that very simple building blocks, to just like really take it one step at a time to go and build your masterpiece.
So I showed you, I do a lot of stuff at my kitchen table. I swear to you, I'm doing a lot of my stuff at home. But the dream scenario where it really gets fun is when you have access to a studio where you have a microphone built in, where you have sound already taken care of, where really what you can do is just sort of like let yourself go and not have to worry so much about the sound conditions. So let's talk about what happens in a studio a little bit. Something that takes a podcast from okay to great.
is when you start to incorporate soundscapes and sound design. Something that really takes me into the story. Somebody once told me that podcasting is actually a very three-dimensional medium. I want to take you through how I think about that stuff because it's so much fun.
See, that's some good car sound. So there are a lot of different ways to build a soundscape. And advice that I always got was, always start with your most powerful sound. So I want to talk about how I've done it recently. And usually what I do is I start with when the guest and the host have shared some sort of story. Let's say the guest really has brought out, they've given you a beginning, middle, and end, a scene. They're telling you about something that happened in their life that's contained. I start to think about, OK, how are we going to bring the sound?
the audience into that story. So places that I get sound scenes are organic sound, field recording, things that I get outside. Sometimes I will bring in ancillary sounds that are sort of like references, pop culture references to get the audience in on the joke.
And really all of this we layer together and then find the places where maybe music can come in and just like lightly underscore whatever the emotion or tone is. And it's amazing when you put all of this together, you really get something so, so much richer than you would otherwise get just hearing that story. But you start with that spine.
So let me show you what this might look like in your editing software. You already have your spine of your story, as we talked about. And as you'll see, then we start to layer. We import other sounds throughout, and we figure out where we're dropping those sounds, how long they're lasting. So for example, if we're doing a soundscape outside, the cars, the rumble of cars, is probably gonna be pretty long. You know, like it's probably gonna like...
stay going underneath a lot of your sound scene. But then maybe you just get like one beep and that's gonna look a little bit shorter like this. And so what you wanna start doing is against the beats and rhythm of that person's story, filling in the gaps and building something that's realistic, that feels like a real space. And then underneath that sometimes, if it's nice, you can add a little bit of music just to underscore that extra emotion. Less is more.
something that's subtle, something that feels real, something that feels like it's drawing you in, that you're in this world, but not like beating you over the head with it.
Podcasting isn't going away. Every year, more people listen to podcasts. It becomes a bigger and bigger medium, a bigger and bigger industry. I can't tell you exactly what the industry is gonna look like in 10 years because it's moving so quickly, but what I can tell you, what won't change, is that people are going to want these stories. It's so funny because over the years, I've seen these ebbs and flows in the industry, but now there's just so much space and opportunity, and this is an industry, I swear to you,
Every year it's different. Like had you told me, even in 2019, that the Prince of England would be getting into podcasts, I would have been like, I'm sorry, what? It's wild what's happening in this industry. Podcasting still has all this room to grow and I want young people. I want diverse voices. I want complicated stories. And so we really need you to come in and.
Keep making this industry grow and boom and rich.
For me, a lot of podcasting ends up being just me in my headphones, going through transcripts, maybe going back and forth on edits with other producers. But what you really don't get to see is how many parts of the production there are and how much thought goes behind it. People think that podcasts are easy because when things sound easy, usually it's because they're very, very, very well made. And one piece of advice that I always...
told myself, and I know this sounds ridiculous, but it can be really stressful, right? It's like high pressure, it's deadlines, it's famous people, it's your career. When you wanna like slow down and be like, wait, this is fun, we're doing something fun. I promise you I've had to tell myself that many, many times because things can get totally out of control and you have to come back and remind yourself like, this is fun.
My craft and my career has been sort of like the dominant relationship in my young life. I know that sounds crazy, but I feel very married to this thing. And by that I mean sometimes it's good and sometimes it's bad and sometimes I'm frustrated with it. I'm like, maybe I don't want to even do this anymore. And then sometimes they fall totally head over heels in love with it again. It's given me so much richness. It took me to Cuba. It took me to...
cover one of the most famous election cycles in our history. It took me to the Prince of England. It really gave me this front row seat of our lives in this moment. But an opportunity to talk about the love and work and stress and craft and taste and time, like all these things that producers do is really special for me.
I really want you to learn to trust your curiosity and your intuition. That's where great things come from. That little voice in your head that's saying like, I think this is a good idea, is a really good idea. I promise you it's a really good idea. It's at your fingertips. That's really how I started. Because I was curious, because somebody put very basic tools in my hand, and I practiced over and over and over again. I hope that people leave here feeling like...
Yeah, this is pretty simple and it's an exceptional way to express myself and filter the world through new eyes. I hope people leave here feeling like if I can do it, you can for sure do it. My name's Rebecca Sananes. Thank you so much for listening.
2. Rebecca’s background: Rebecca Sananès is an award-winning podcast executive producer, journalist, and media personality. Her work unveils complex, real-life stories through the power of conversation and audio reporting, appearing on global platforms like NPR’s All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and The World. Rebecca was the inaugural Head of Audio at Archewell Audio, overseeing the creative partnership between The Duke and Duchess of Sussex and Spotify.